Dec. 17, 2009
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- After opening the season with 10 games in 26 days, the University of Iowa men's basketball team will end an eight-day recess by hosting Drake on Saturday with a 5:36 p.m. start inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
"Now's a time to catch your breath and really enjoy playing the game of basketball," UI head coach Todd Lickliter said Thursday at a media conference inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. "I thought this schedule was by far the most demanding that I've ever had since I've been here, without question, on a team that has a lot of youth."
For the Hawkeyes (3-7), this will be the third consecutive matchup against an in-state school. Iowa fell on the road to Northern Iowa (67-50) on Dec. 8 and to Iowa State (81-71) on Dec. 11.
Drake enters the game with a record of 5-5 overall. The Bulldogs have won three games in a row and four of the last five.
"Drake really seems to have found its rhythm," Lickliter said. "I think they've found their stride. They're excellent in transition, they have great range and they're very good at playing match-up zone. We expect a challenging game. If you're going to compete at the highest level, then you have to expect challenges such as this and enjoy it and respect the competition level."
Lickliter will return to the bench against Drake for the first time since the Hawkeyes played Virginia Tech at home Dec. 1. Four days later, he underwent a procedure to repair a torn carotid artery.
"I'm assuming this is like riding a bike; you don't forget what you're doing," Lickliter said of his return. "This week I've been back without being dominating in any way and it's really nice to be involved. I'm going to do my job. I may be better than I was before I went in for the procedure, in my opinion. I haven't had headaches since and they tell me it's been corrected. They haven't put any limitations on me, they just told me I'd be tired for awhile, and they're right. I am a little bit tired."
The return of their head coach is a welcomed sight for the UI players.
"It's good just seeing his face around," Hawkeye junior Jarryd Cole said. "He's there and he's giving his helping hints. It's good to see him around."
"It's great to have him here," UI guard Cully Payne said. "It's good for us as a team to have him back."
Lickliter called the response by Hawkeye fans to his surgery and return "moving."
"I'm a firm believer in prayer and I've heard from countless people that they prayed for a successful procedure," Lickliter said. "I'm so thankful. The people have been terrific as far as expressing concern and offering the prayers and there is no way to thank them enough for that. I was moved."
When asked about speculation that the Big Ten Conference would expand to 12 teams, Lickliter said that there were still plenty of hoops to jump through. One attractive advantage of expansion would be playing a 16-game league schedule, compared to the current 18-game slate.
"I would prefer the 16 (game conference schedule)," Lickliter said. "It would give us some flexibility and as we continue to grow and improve, the fans get excited, I'd like to have a couple more home games. Now we play 18 Big Ten games, three in-state games and the ACC/Big Ten Challenge...we basically schedule five games. I think that's a unique situation."
The Hawkeyes were victorious during their most-recent home game, scoring a season-high 80 points in an 80-51 win against Prairie View A&M.